About 30 years ago, on the 18th day of June 1982 Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Dikedioramma, staged a triumphal return into the ecstatic embrace of his countrymen and women, having spent 12 years, 5 months and 8 days in exile. He returned into the loving arms of millions of Nigerians of all ethnic groups and religions who besieged the airports and all his routes like sand on the seashore to celebrate a man who stood to be counted at a most crucial time in the lives of his people. That rousing welcome not only spoke volumes about his popularity amongst the masses, but also affirmed Ikemba as a uniting rather than a dividing factor in the Nigerian body polity.
Today, the outpouring of emotions and celebration of life that have continued to come Ikemba’s way on his glorious journey to eternity are clear evidence that not even death could diminish him. He has continued to soar in glory and grace, for no man dies who truly lives in the hearts of his people.
Dim Odumewu-Ojukwu lives on in our hearts as that legend, intellectual, patriot, brave soldier, enigma, colossus and great statesman from the land of the rising sun who contributed immensely to the development of our dear nation, Nigeria and Africa in general. Ikemba lives on in our hearts as a brave warrior who told Africa and indeed the whole world in bold terms that a people oppressed can stand firm against all forms of oppression; and that armed with courage and faith, a people can survive even the harshest of conditions. He lives on as a man who saw tomorrow, and indeed a great visionary whose concerns of yesteryears, misunderstood at a point in our history, manifest in a backlash of stack realities before our very eyes today.
Ezeigbo Gburugburu will forever be celebrated, not only among Ndigbo and Nigerians, but students of history the world over, as one of the few patriots, if not the only character in contemporary history, who rallied his people for self defence, yet remobilised them for a fast-paced reintegration into the mainstream social, political, and economic life of their nation. Ikemba exhibited an unequalled patriotism and statesmanship when he joined the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) on return from exile rather than the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) to apply himself as a uniting force on a national stage. He continued even after the fall of the Second Republic to join forces with other patriots and progressives to build Nigeria into one indissoluble entity. He for the presidency of this country in this Fourth Republic, an ambition and action that translated to a statement of inclusivity and absolute faith in the Nigerian project.
For those who are still in doubt about Ikemba’s stand on the unity of Nigeria, I wish to refer them to the lecture entitled “Nigeria: The Truths that are Self Evident” which he delivered at The Sunday Magazine (TSM) lecture series on February 22, 1994 preparatory to the 1994 Constitutional Conference- about 17 years today. Reacting to the erroneous interpretations to some of his comments at that trying time of our recent history following the annulment of the June 12 1992 presidential election, Ikemba reaffirmed his faith in Nigeria thus: “In 1967, the Igbo people were forced into WAR. Prior to that WAR, Ndiigbo under my leadership had declared the Republic of Biafra. This act was termed Secession. Unfortunately during this ongoing crisis and as we position ourselves for the Constitutional Conference, many have tried to raise the bogey of secession whenever an Igbo speaks. I do not deny the fact of secession in 1967 – this is a historical fact. What I deny is that the Igbo community to which I belong has been planning for SECESSION. Secession is not like COCAINE – it is not addictive…. Today I have more reasons to seek a better Nigeria than I did. Today as we all take stock, I find that I have invested so heavily in Nigeria”
Indeed, Ikemba had a vision of a true and prosperous federal state where every citizen finds joy and fulfilment, not one fraught with ethno-religious tensions and carnages. He had a vision of a Nigeria where every citizen lives without fears in any part thereof. He had a vision of a country great in name and esteem. He had a vision of a country well governed and devoid of the vultures of tribalism discrimination, ethnic segregation, religious nepotism, sectional cabalism, and a nation which potentials and might are not rendered weak by the vultures of corruption and greed.
In the 1920s, an English adventurer named Mallory, led series of expedition to climb to the top of Mount Everest. His first expedition failed. So did the second. Mallory made a third assault with highly skilled and experienced team, but in spite of careful planning and extensive safety measures, an avalanche wiped out Mallory and most of his men. Upon their return to England, the few who had survived held a funeral banquet in honour of Mallory and those who had perished on the mountain.
As the leader of the survivors stood to speak, he turned his back at the crowd and faced the large picture of Mount Everest, which was hanging on the wall silently like an unbeatable giant. With tears streaming down his face as it is for us today, he spoke to the mountain on behalf of his dead friends: “I speak to you, Mount Everest in the name of all brave men living and those yet unborn. Mount Everest, you defeated us once, you defeated us twice, you defeated us three times. But Mount Everest, we shall someday defeat you”
Mount Everest was eventually defeated and today people get to the top of the imposing mountain with ease.
Today, because our dear nation and her leaders owe it to the memory of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu to strengthen Nigeria as an indivisible political entity where justice, peace, love, and unity reigns, it is my hope that the mountain of hatred, religious bigotry, discrimination and intolerance which Ikemba fought against will be defeated and levelled in this country. It is my earnest expectation that we shall all depart from this house of mourning, recommitting to the struggle to ensure the optimal right to settlement, establishment, and happiness for all citizens in every part of Nigeria. It is my earnest desire that we shall in our lifetime witness a Nigeria where we will live with and among ourselves happily irrespective of our tribe, tongue or religion. It is, in fact our collective charge to rebuild this nation into one where national interest is supreme; where corruption is a thing of the past; and where every Nigerian is free and able to actualise his or her legitimate dreams and aspirations unmolested in any part of the country, irrespective of religious, political, and tribal affiliations and origin. This is the most befitting and greatest tribute we can pay to Ikemba.
Ikemba! Africa mourns you; Nigeria mourns you; and Ndigbo mourn you
Ikemba! Be rest assured that this house will not fall
Be rest assured that the termites will no longer eat down our fences
Be rest assured that the crows and vultures will no longer patch on our heritage
Be rest assured that the strangers will no longer walk over our portion
For the sun can only rise on our heritage.
Iru dike na-anyu mma nko
Okaa oburu uzo
Odogwu eji eje mba
Anya okuko na-eche akwa ya
Agu na-eche ibe ya
Ahu nze ebie okwu
O muo olezuta anya
Ogaranya juru ndo soro ogbenye noro n’anwu
Atu okwu ujo
Ikemba! Okwa dike mee nke oji bia oche iru n’uzo ula
Iruzugo, ma oku igunyere anyi n’aka agaghi anyunari anyi
Jee nke oma
May the chariot of angels ride you to eternal rest. Amen.
Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy President of the Senate
and Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament
Oratory at its best; a tribute like non other; uneqalled and unparalled. This will move even a heart of stone to tears. Sleep in peace, Ikemba.